THE Asean Seaweed Industry Club has submitted a letter of appeal to the newly-installed secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bring to his attention the challenge faced by seaweed players in Southeast Asia.

In a letter to USDA Secretary George Ervin Perdue III dated Aug. 3, Asean Seaweed Industry Club chairman Maximo Ricohermoso appealed to the US official to look into the alarming development besetting the seaweed and carrageenan industry, following the move taken by the US National Organic Standard Board (NOSB) to recommend the removal of carrageenan in the list of allowed ingredients in organic food.

Attached in the letter was the group’s collective position about the matter, which has affected the industry’s production and livelihood of communities dependent on seaweed farming.

“We are confident that your fair understanding of our position would merit objective, impartial and equitable resolution of the foregoing issue that would eventually retain carrageenan in the list of allowed ingredients in organic food,” the letter said.

Early this year, the USDA has started reviewing the recommendations of the US NOSB on carrageenan and the other substances that were considered in the sunset review.

In a 10-3 vote last Nov. 17, the NOSB voted to remove carrageenan from the list of “approved for use in organic food.” The final and binding vote, though, will be taken by USDA.

By November, the USDA is expected to publish proposed rules on the use of carrageenan in organic food. There will be a 30-day comment period on the proposed rules. The deadline for publication on the USDA’s final rule is on Nov. 3, 2018.

“Stakeholders are raising a strong drive against such negative campaigns by competitors and anti-carrageenan advocates,” said Ricohermoso, adding that this issue stands to affect over 300,000 seaweedfarmers in the Philippines.

The Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines (Siap), being the lead group in the Asean Seaweed Industry Club, has capitalized on its network in the Asean bloc to gain support for its ongoing fight to retain carrageenan in the list of approved additive in organic food.

“We will leverage this access to gain support from the region’s influential groups and even experts to back up the industry’s side,” said SIAP president Maximo Ricohermoso, in past interviews.

He said Siap is consulting a scientific group to counter the anti-organic and health issues claims against carrageenan in close coordination with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and bring the matter up to the Asean.